Q&A with CommonGround

CommonGround is a national movement driven by farm women, whose mission is to share information about agriculture and how food is grown and raised. We caught up with CommonGround volunteer Crystal Klug to find out more about this organization and what consumers need to know about food labels.

Crystal Klug 
CommonGround Volunteer
Crystal and her husband, Beau, are the fourth generation (raising the fifth) to farm the Klug family’s land in Columbus, Nebraska, where they raise cattle and crops.

Why was CommonGround formed?

CommonGround was formed because today’s consumers are more disconnected from farms than ever before. This could potentially make some consumers vulnerable to misinformation about how food is grown.

What does “farm-to-table” mean to you?

Farm-to table, to me, means supporting local farms and farm families. Every late spring and summer, I get excited to purchase asparagus from a small organic farm family a couple miles from our home, sign up for a local Community Supported Agriculture program (a collaborative food-growing business model that allows many people to share the bounty of one farmer’s field) and harvest fresh tomatoes and basil from my garden to make into spaghetti sauce.

Because we live in Nebraska, our window for locally grown farm-to-table products is relatively short. In the dead of winter, I am grateful for the opportunity to purchase yellow peppers and avocados grown in Mexico, oranges from Florida and lettuce from California at my local grocery store.

I am still supporting someone’s livelihood, while being able to provide my family with fresh produce to serve with home-raised beef from our freezer.

Placing non-GMO, gluten free and plant-based claims on food packaging may make consumers feel as though they are purchasing healthier products, which isn’t necessarily the case.

What do some of the most common food labels mean?

Placing non-GMO, gluten free and plant-based claims on food packaging may make consumers feel as though they are purchasing healthier products, which isn’t necessarily the case.

The Non-GMO Project label means that the product ingredients have been verified as non-GMO by the Non-GMO Project company. This label can be somewhat misleading, because it is extremely overused. In fact, a majority of food products that contain the “Non-GMO Project” label don’t even have a GMO alternative.

Gluten free is another label that is overused. Gluten is found in grains, such as wheat, barley and rye, but you will find this label on countless products ranging from a jar of peanut butter to a bag of frozen veggies to a bottle of salad dressing.

Vegetarian and vegan labels are now being swapped out with the label plant-based. Unfortunately, food companies know that consumers are increasingly interested about how their food is grown, but they also understand that these food labels are useful marketing tactics.

Are there any misleading labels that consumers should know about?

Misleading food labels confuse a consumer’s shopping experience. Some examples:

There are misleading labels and claims down almost every aisle of the grocery store.

Why is it important for consumers to know what food labels mean?

I want consumers to remember all farmers — organic and conventional — fundamentally have the same values: producing safe, secure and sustainable food.

I want consumers to feel confident in making food purchases at the grocery store and be aware of marketing tactics and misleading claims on food packaging. Remember, the true nutritional merit of a product is found in the detailed food label on the back — not the tagline on the front of the package.

It’s also important to keep in mind farmers feed their own families the same food they grow for you. At our dinner table, our family eats the same beef we raise for other consumers, and it’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly. As protein producers, we follow strict guidelines set by the USDA, and all meat is rigorously tested before it is sold at the retail level.

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